Business blooms on North Washington Avenue -- 'It's getting a serious facelift right now.'
If you left Detroit Lakes a few years ago and just recently came back, you could be excused for hardly recognizing North Washington Avenue.
Gone is the old Washington School, replaced with Union Central, a 30-unit senior housing complex.
Dino Mart and Tires Plus now occupy the former Grover-Lindberg station.
The Hardware Hank building and its neighbor have been renovated into commercial space, with Counselor Realty and Muttley's pet grooming downstairs, and an apartment and office upstairs.
The retail space in the Masonic Lodge building has been rented out -- to Mellow Moods and a new clothing store called Unique Boutique.
The Northside bar is looking spiffy with a new awning and façade, and even DL Newspapers has gotten into the act, with new siding on the north and east sides of its building.
A few blocks north, Pete's Pit Stop has thoroughly renovated its building, an old-time auto repair shop.
Even the look of the street is different on the five-block stretch from Highway 10 to Highway 34.
In early 2011, the city finished a $1.28 million "streetscaping" project that brought ornate street lights, red brick boulevards, red stained concrete and pedestrian-friendly intersection nodes to the once-gritty North Washington Avenue.
"We love it -- we couldn't be happier," said Erin Foley, co-owner of Muttley's, about the business's new home.
"We've always admired the building," she said.
"We fell in love with the structure of the building, we loved everything about it," from the stamped tin ceiling to the original hardwood floor, said Muttley's co-owner Melissa Beeson.
"The amount of walk-in traffic is just unbelievable," Foley said. "We've never had that before."
Muttley's was formerly located in the North Industrial Park in the Lucky Dog building.
Pete Jordan, owner of Pete's Pit Stop, says he likes the look of the street, but doesn't like the special assessments that helped pay for it.
Property owners on the street shared $347,000 in special assessments for the sewer, water, paving and beautification project, said Community Development Director Larry Remmen.
"People are going to come to me no matter where I'm located," Pete said. His shop is in the former City Service Station.
Still, after seven years on North Washington, he recently decided it was time for improvements. His renovated shop now has new siding, signage, flooring, interior paint, sprayed and cleaned brick shop walls and a new bathroom and counter in the customer area.
Chris and Tracy Roach of Lake Park were welcomed to North Washington Avenue with a broken window and the burglary of their store, the Unique Boutique. Particle board covers the broken glass on their front door.
Such break-ins are rare in the neighborhood, and the two are hopeful that in the long run -- with all the improvements going on around them, and the busy summer season ahead -- that they chose the right spot for their unique clothing store.
"Everybody said the north side was pretty tough," she said. "We just felt this area needed something like this and decided to give it a whirl."
"The north side is in need of a serious facelift, and it's getting a serious facelift right now," said Mike Ring, one of a half-dozen or so full-time agents at Counselor Realty and the owner of the building.
"It's all inspiring people to take it up a notch," he said of the streetscaping work.
Ring has noticed a lot more foot traffic at the North Washington location. Counselor Realty had been located near the fire hall.
"I like the high traffic location, there is easy access to Highway 10 and it's close to the crescent district," he said.
Remmen said city officials are glad to see business owners making renovations.
"It looks good," he said. "It's just the kind of thing we wanted to see -- façade improvements and just dressing things up. We hoped somebody would see that area and see it has potential."
A similar streetscaping project is planned in the next few years for the main downtown business district on South Washington Avenue, and city officials hope it will have a similar boomerang effect.
"We hope when we do the South Washington project that businesses will do some work on their facades," Remmen said.
Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk agrees, and would like to find a way to help owners offset the cost of such improvements.
Brenk says it's all part of the city's plan to tie together its downtown business district.
"I'm not really surprised (at all the improvements) because I really believe in this whole redevelopment project, and I believed it would happen," he said. "But it is gratifying that people are doing that ... so far it's been a pretty exciting project."
The business corridor improvement plan is designed to unite the downtown area, from Highway 34 to the city beach and from the Downtown Crossing area to the community center, said City Administrator Bob Louiseau.
The area will share the same street lights, streetscaping and other amenties.
"We want to tie that together so we have an identified business district that is maybe a little more unique than on the west side of town, with the big box stores," he said.
The idea is to create a traditional shopping area where retail shops mix with restaurants and entertainment venues, in a pedestrian-friendly way.
"We want it to be a fun place for people to go," Louiseau said.
The city is implementing the plan as opportunities arise -- when sewer and water needs to be replaced under streets, for example, or when new construction creates an opportunity for bicycle-pedestrian trails.
"We're kind of trying to do this thing in stages -- eventually it will all connect," he said.
Louiseau said he recently talked to some of the planners from RDG Group who helped develop the business corridor plan, which was finished in December 2008.
"They were amazed at how much had been accomplished in such a short time," he said.